Strange Bedfellows

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

I have long wanted to meet and hear out the much-touted Rafizi Ramli, Vice President and Secretary General of the People’s Justice Party or Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). Rafizi is the Member of Parliament for Pandan, Selangor and is the co-founder of the National Oversight and Whistleblowers. He won the Pandan federal seat in the 2013 General Elections defeating Ong Tee Keat of the Malaysian Chinese Association by 26,729 votes, almost double the number received by incumbent Ong.

Rafizi, 38, is from humble origins. His parents were rubber tappers in Besut, Terengganu. He was a champion debater at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar. He did his tertiary education at the University of Leeds majoring in electrical engineering. He then worked for an accountant’s firm in the United Kingdom while taking a professional course and qualified as a chartered accountant. Upon returning to Malaysia in 2003, Rafizi worked for Petronas till 2009.

Rafizi Ramli, a staunch critic of the Barisan Nasional-led government has exposed many ill-doings by people in high offices. Among them was the National Feedlot Corporation scandal involving the then Women, Family and Community Development Minister, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil. Shahrizat and her family were accused of misusing RM250 million in public funds meant for a state cattle farm in Gemas, Negeri Sembilan. The scandal is popularly known as “Cattlegate”. The mere mention of the word brings to mind a defiant and unremorseful Shahrizat always insisting her innocence. And for that, Rafizi has been on the police watch list ever since. The hunter is now the hunted.

My prayers were finally answered when I received a text message from a friend saying that Rafizi would be at a PKR-organised forum titled, “Is Najib out of the Woods” at Symphony Suites Hotel, Ipoh on Friday, March 4. My wife and I were at the 10th floor meeting hall well before 7.30pm, the appointed time. Regardless of whichever camp one is affiliated to, flexi-time has affected all Malaysians and Rafizi is no exception.

The talk began at 8.30pm with only two of the three speakers present – Sivarasa Rasiah and Khalid Jaafar. Rafizi was on his way from KL after signing the momentous Deklarasi Rakyat or the Citizens’ Declaration to remove Najib. The paper bore the signatures of 58 prominent politicians, led by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad.

Among those who signed the declaration were Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang, former Bar Council President Ambiga Sreenevasan, PAS Election Director Mustafa Ali, former Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhariz Mahathir and Parti Amanah President Mohamed Sabu. Strange bedfellows by any definition – individuals whom no one would have dreamed of working together, let alone sit on the same table with a singular motive – the removal of a serving prime minister. Rafizi Ramli was among the group of 58, and that was reason enough for him to be late for the Ipoh appointment. But none of the 150-odd attendees in the hall complained.

When the protagonist strode in, 45 minutes later, he was greeted with a subdued applause. It was obvious that the audience, a mixture of old and young, was there to hear this very erudite politician speak. I was impressed by his drive and vitality, for in spite of a tedious day out in the open, Rafizi still had the energy to articulate his arguments regarding the state of affairs of this bountiful nation under premier Najib.

The absence of PKR President, Wan Azizah among the signatories was answered. “She’s beyond mere politics,” said Rafizi. “The country is heading the way of Greece if nothing is done,” he insisted. So naivety was definitely not the reason why these strange bedfellows got together and signed a citizens’ declaration. And to those who regard this as an act of desperation, do they have a Plan B? The country is on a downward spiral and like a drowning man we are grasping at straws.

Rafizi raised one pertinent point about Malay voters which got me thinking. He said the long-held belief that rural Malays were the ones responsible for Umno’s continued existence was a fallacy. “Urban Malays who had benefitted from Umno’s affirmative policies are the ones.”

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